Oxford City Football Club (OTCQB:OXFC) CEO Thomas Anthony Guerriero talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his acquisition of a legendary English football club and his plans to expand the brand internationally.
For Thomas Guerriero, owning a professional sports team was a lifelong dream. “I always had in the back of my mind that, if given the opportunity, I would like to get involved with a company in the business side of sports … I have worked my entire career towards that,” says Guerriero, a Harvard graduate who began working in finance in 1998 and rose through the ranks to senior vice president of the Securities Division of First Union (NYSE: FTU). His expertise contributed to Wachovia acquiring First Union in the biggest banking acquisition in history and, following his tenure there, he built his own private client base, participated in think tanks and became one of the youngest ever to hold the title of CEO of an NYSE member firm, TAA. He led TAA to record profitability before it was acquired by High Point Capital, and then he became CEO and President of Global Wealth and steered that company toward record profitability until it was acquired in 2010.
In 2011 Guerriero founded WMX Group Holdings, Inc., which was put together with the purpose of acquiring a diversified portfolio of professional sports teams. His long-held dream came true in April 2013 when he acquired the 131-year-old Oxford City Football Club in Oxfordshire, England. “Just as important as our acquisition of the teams, having control of all the training facilities, the buildings, the arena, and stadium is truly extraordinary,” he says. “We now own the Oxford City Football Club, which plays in the Conference North, Oxford City Nomads, which plays in the Hellenic Premier, Oxford City Futsal, which plays in the highest level of futsal (a form of soccer) in the U.K. and is one of the top teams in the U.K., and Oxford City Basketball, which plays in the English Basketball League as well.” The academic portfolio includes Oxford City University and Oxford City Sports College. Guerriero is anticipating opening a campus in South Florida in the near future. “We are looking for perfect property to acquire and build our U.S. campus,” he says. “There are lots of exciting things going on.” With the acquisition of Oxford City, Guerriero’s company, WMX Group Holdings, Inc., adopted the name Oxford City Football Club, Inc., and began concentrating on expanding the brand worldwide. “There is a reason why we have been called the Berkshire Hathaway of professional sports and education. We have the largest diversified portfolio of professional sports teams and academic institutions in the world and we are the only one of its kind that is publicly traded,” Guerriero adds.
Guerriero: I had made an offer in 2011 to acquire the Spanish football club, Racing de Santander in La Liga, the pinnacle of Spanish football, and was very deep in the negotiations process when I discovered a lot of the financials had been withheld. I decided to move in a different direction. During our due diligence we discovered that the name brand of Oxford was priceless and we were confident we could maximize its branding potential. After months of negotiations I made the decision to move forward with Oxford City—specifically because of the quality of people involved with the organization, their reach into the community on every level, and their remarkably rich 131-year history leading back to 1882. We have one of the largest youth programs around and many feel the top futsal team in the country. I personally acquired the team and then made the executive decision to move it into the public company soon after, to allow us to achieve maximum growth.
Opportunist: Has the experience lived up to your expectations?
Guerriero: Yes. We set a strategic plan of attack that we would need to implement in order to succeed and we are actually three years ahead of schedule. I couldn’t be happier with the people who are getting involved and the way things are falling into place. We dug in deep and got a feel for the city and the environment and it has been a wonderful experience all the way around. Obviously, there is always room for improvement but the way in which we have been received and how seamlessly the U.S. and U.K. sides are working together is much smoother and better than we anticipated.
Opportunist: What do you find most rewarding about owning a professional sports club?
Guerriero: What I enjoy the most is the opportunity to have a legacy that’s extraordinary. To be able to build upon a solid foundation of the Oxford City Football Club brand and take it globally so my kids and grandchildren can look back and say this was an extraordinary journey on every level. The enjoyment has grown literally every day from the moment I first decided to attack this head on.
Opportunist: Have there been many obstacles to overcome?
Guerriero: Any obstacles that we have had to overcome make it more exciting for me because each day puts us one step closer to where we ultimately always wanted to be. Like any business, the logistics of doing business—especially when you’re an international company doing business overseas as well as in the United States—requires some getting used to. Things have really been in sync since day one and we are very excited about continuing the relationship for many years to come.
Opportunist: Does Oxford City have a deeply-rooted presence in the community? Can you tell us about your fan base?
Guerriero: What is interesting is that, because of the history of the club, there are obviously those who have been following the teams for some time. We are starting to tap into the resources of the community and the students, which make up a large proportion of the population in Oxford. They are now aware that I am involved and doing some unique and interesting things that are appealing to them. We are seeing an increase in the amount of interest and support for the club and that applies to the basketball side as well. As we gain more exposure and more people are following our successes, we anticipate that we will naturally attract more supporters. Oxford City has had more press coverage and interest this year than at any other time in history.
Also, Oxford is one of the top educational cities in the world and is known for its academic programs. About 165,000 people are in one way, shape or form tied to the university and about another 600,000 live in the Oxfordshire with nothing to do other than study or go to the pubs. Now, with Oxford City, we have a hand in a significant proportion of the city’s sports and entertainment. So, we feel we can add value and an outlet for people to have something to be excited about other than their normal day-to-day routines. There are always things to do before the game and in the local community, such as training day at the futsal facility where the players meet young kids and sign autographs. This is our first season and we are working with Craig Tornberg, our general manager, and Colin Taylor our managing director, putting the organization strategically into place to really make the most of the effort in promoting and branding Oxford City.
Opportunist: Who are your opponents?
Guerriero: There is so much parity in every single club throughout English football that each one is of high quality. When we play against any one of them they raise the profile of our team. Since we have become involved, everyone circles us on their calendar and makes us one of their biggest matches of the year. I believe everyone will raise their game when they play us. There is no particular team that stands out as a face-to-face competitor at this moment. Basically, we just focus on the next match so that we are better prepared week by week for that.
Opportunist: Where do you find your recruits and what type of tryouts must they undergo to become part of the team?
Guerriero: We have trials throughout the entire year. There is a large one in June where we hand select players to come. We also get approached by people who want to come and try out. If they fit the criteria we are looking for or a need that we have, we will bring them on board. We are continually looking for talent—there is no set time of year—but June and July are the only off months and August is pre-season and then the matches run straight through until the following April.
Opportunist: What is your ultimate goal for the club?
Guerriero: To continually progress. Every year, no matter what division we are in, we want to get promoted and move up. That’s the goal from day one when the season opens until it ends. Years down the road, we are expecting to be able to look back and be proud of a journey which takes us ultimately to maximize our real potential.
Opportunist: What are your hopes for the stock?
Guerriero: We feel the stock is extremely undervalued at these levels. We considered taking the company back to being private. But now that things have fallen so nicely into place we are very excited and focused on our goal in the near term, which is to make the move to the NYSE and surround ourselves with the necessary people to take us to the next step. No one works as hard as we do. I get into the office at 3 a.m. on most days and stay into the night to make sure every single ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed to the nth degree.
I think it’s very rare for individuals to have an opportunity to own a piece of a professional sports team. Opportunities like this are typically reserved for a very select circle of people with hundreds of millions of dollars. We offer an opportunity to not only own a piece of professional football clubs, but the top futsal team in the U.K., and a professional basketball club. We are the only diversified publicly traded sports organization in the world. When you own a couple of sports teams you now have a reason to support those teams besides the fact that you might like the colors or you live in the city they represent. You have a real ownership stake in the teams. If we succeed, they succeed and this is a one in a million type of opportunity for somebody to participate in something of true value and, quite possibly, tuck something away for their grandkids. I feel very confident that we have a piece of something very special.
Opportunist: What is on the horizon for 2014?
Guerriero: We plan to become more deeply embedded into the teams and the community, while focusing on branding the company internationally. The next year, 2014, will effectively be our first full year of running the club and we are very excited about the prospect of implementing new strategies while carrying out old strategies and operating on value at every level.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @les7989.
Oxford City Football Club - http://www.oxfordcityfc.com
Follow Thomas Anthony Guerriero on Twitter @GuerrieroThomas
Watch Oxford City vs. Worcester City - http://youtu.be/kgJixXknpNo